Over the weekend, Kentucky lawmakers passed a right-to-work bill, which was promptly signed by Governor Matt Bevin. The new law took immediate effect on January 9, 2017, making Kentucky the 27th state in the nation and the last state in the South to adopt such a measure.
The Kentucky bill, named the “Paycheck Protection Act,” provides that no employee may be automatically enrolled in a union, unless that individual has affirmatively requested union membership. In addition, the new law prohibits deductions from any employee’s earnings for union dues or fees without the employee’s written or electronic consent. Further, the law provides employee protection for those who exercise their rights under the Act. For example, an employee cannot be discharged or denied employment because he or she signed, or refused to sign, union membership authorization, or consented to, or refused to consent to, union dues deduction authorizations. Moreover, employees cannot waive—and importantly, cannot be asked to waive—the authorization requirements.
The right-to-work law extends to collective bargaining agreements that are entered into, renewed, or extended after January 9, 2017. These agreements, therefore, may not provide for mandatory union dues deductions or the like.
The new Kentucky law also imposes certain recording-keeping and disclosure requirements on labor organizations. Unions must now maintain financial records similar to those mandated by federal law, and are now obligated to keep all records and underlying data, including employee authorizations, for at least five years. Those records shall be electronically searchable and must be shared with each represented employee. Labor organizations that violate the right-to-work law may be subject to civil penalties ranging from $100 to $1,000 for each offense.
Following the 2016 election, Republicans now control both chambers of the Kentucky legislature, as well as the governor’s office, a shift in power that enabled the swift passage of the right-to-work law. Republican tripartite majorities in other states, such as Missouri and New Hampshire, are likely to pursue similar measures.